Monday, November 24, 2008

Prince Charles Marks "Kindertransport"

Prince Charles has marked the 70th anniversary of a decision to allow thousands of children from Nazi-occupied Europe into the UK.

He told Kindertransport refugees at a reunion in London he was proud his own grandmother had sheltered Jewish refugees when WWII broke out. 

About 10,000 mainly Jewish children were allowed into the UK following a 1938 Commons debate on refugee policy.

The Association of Jewish Refugees says the UK saved them from "certain death".

In a speech, the prince said his paternal grandmother, Alice, Princess Andrew of Greece, took in a Jewish family when she was living in Athens. He said: "That's one reason why I wanted to be with you today because my grandmother would have approved. She was a very remarkable lady." He added he was "incredibly proud a member of my family did the right thing". "That I think is something we always need to remember on these occasions. What is the right thing to do?" he added.

"We must never ever forget the lessons from what you had to go through."

He said the refugees' experiences were "almost unimaginable, even though I promise you I have tried to imagine what so many of you had to go through". We are celebrating one of the single most important decisions ever taken by the British government

Steven Mendelsson, 82, who now lives in Sheffield, was one of the "kinder" who met the prince.
Born in Bresslau, Germany, which is now called Wroclaw in Poland, he arrived in Britain aged 12. Recalling his arrival in Harwich, Essex, he said: "We arrived very thirsty they gave us hot tea which we had never heard of before and bananas. "They put us on a train to Liverpool Street Station. We needed our parents to hug us and tell us it was a bad dream, but they were left behind in Germany."

The Association of Jewish Refugees (AJR) estimated the parents of 90% of kinder were murdered in the Holocaust.

But Mr Mendelsson's parents were able to follow him to England a few months later. Charitable organisations such as the Red Cross organised the Kindertransport, involving unaccompanied children - aged five to 17 - travelling to Britain by train and boat via Holland. Many were orphaned and remained in the UK.

The gathering of the refugees, many of whom are now elderly, took place at the Jews' Free School in Kingsbury. The school was instrumental in helping many of the youngsters to be moved from London to Ely, near Cambridge, at the beginning of World War II. Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, welfare minister Tony McNulty and director Lord Attenborough also attended.

Erich Reich, chairman of the Association of Jewish Refugees' Kindertransport committee, said: "We are celebrating one of the single most important decisions ever taken by the British government.

"Thanks to its intervention some 10,000 children, myself included, were saved from certain death."

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